Why Trump's unpopularity may not be the handicap you'd expect

Why Trump's unpopularity may not be the handicap you'd expect

Sean Hannity during a rally on Nov. 5 at Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Jeff Roberson / AP)

The Republican Party comes into Election Day with a significant handicap. The Party's Leader, The Man in the White House, is one of the most popular members of the New York Times: George W. Bush in 2006, whose popularity was four years earlier Iraq.


(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

Trump's unpopularity has no obvious external factor. There is only one obvious reason Trump is as unpopular as it is: Many Americans, especially many Democrats, simply do not like him. The percentage of Americans who hold strongly unfavorable views of trumps is generally higher than the same figure for past presidents. Part of it is the increase in partisanship in recent years, but part of it is the uniqueness of Trump.

Historically, such unpopularity is bad news for presidents' parties in midterm elections. Data from Gallup shows in the House during midterms: The more popular the president, the better his party does. At Trump's current popularity, historic data suggests a loss of nearly 40 seats in the house – about what FiveThirtyEight's projections indicate as of writing.

There is something else that is broad about Trump, too – something that may not help in electoral politics but which provides a buffer of safety that past unpopular presidents (including, to some extent, Bush) have not enjoyed.

Trump has a major media organization that's broadly treating his presidency in favorable terms.

Fox News's Sean Hannity promised on Twitter on Monday he was headed to Missouri simply to interview Trump for his nightly opinion program on the network. What ensued, though, what was anything but. Trump invited Hannity to make some comments during the rally, a request Hannity Said hey what "honored" to grant. Hannity as a guest at the rally undercut Hannity's claim of objectivity in advance; his actual participation in the rally made it clearly false after the fact.

But this is not new or unique. Hannity was joined onstage by Jeanine Pirro, who hosts a show on Fox News. He'd be done the interview-slash-rally participant gig before, interviewing Trump at his rallies, complete with feedback from the audience. In September, "Fox and Friends" Pete Hegseth interviewed Trump at a rally, the president's answers punctuated by hoots and cheers from the crowd.

The overlap between Fox News and the administration has so sprawling we may forget its expansion. Trump's reported favorite to take over as U.N. Heather Nauert, who was one of the anchors of "Fox and Friends" when Trump had a regular gig in the show to offer his thoughts. Trump's most recent communications director is Bill Shine, a former executive at the network. (A White House pool reporter indicated that when Hannity came off on Monday night, Shine offered him a high five.) John Bolton, Ambassador to Germany Richard Groenell and communications Staffer Mercedes Schlapp.

Trump himself is an enormous fan of the network. Many days begin with his watching (and tweeting about) "Fox and Friends" coverage. Should he tweet about some random issue on some weekday morning, it generally does not take long for reporters like Matt Gertz to link it back to something that aired on the cable network.

Why is that relationship with Fox News so important? For one thing because it is by far the outlet most trusted by members of the Republican Party. Polling from Suffolk University makes clear how dominant Fox is among members of Trump's party.


(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

Hannity's appearance onstage was hardly the thing that made him and his network broadly loyal to the president and his party. Stormy Daniels but resolutely covering the migrant caravan Trump has declared his midterm election pitch.

The Fox News audience – averaging 2.5 million viewers at prime time earlier this year – see a different version of the rest of the country. In July, we noted Trump's approval in the 2016 election. News, of course, what to tune in to Fox.

John Dean, once White House counsel for former president Richard Nixon, offered an interesting thought about his former boss to Rolling Stone earlier this year. Nixon resigned from office in 1974 as the Watergate investigation engulfed him and his staff. But, Dean said, "Nixon might have survived if he had Fox News and the conservative media that exists today."

Republicans in House races this week. Trump's unpopularity nationally is one thing, and it's worth it. The most popular and most trusted network is the Republican base's most-watched and most-trusted network. If Trump and his party have a rough night, the White House wants to seek it out. It is likely the spin, whatever it is, by Hanny and Pirro and many others on the network that is most trusted by 61 percent of Republicans.

When Trump introduced Hannity on Monday, his introduction struck directly at the truth of the relationship.

"I have a few people that are right out here. And they're very special. They've done an incredible job for us. They've been with us from the beginning, "he said. "I'm going to start by saying Sean Hannity, come on up."

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